Season Review

So the 2013-2104 season has come to an end. I love training and racing, so I always find it sad when the season finishes, and it becomes 7-8 months until I will be racing again. However, it’s also nice to have a break and relax as it’s been a long, hard season.

With coaches we always have a look back on the season, to make sure next season is better, so I thought I’d do a little season review blog too. I’ve put some of my favourite photos in too. Sorry, some of them have already been in my blog already this winter!

Best race of the season

It’s got to be between two:

5km classic time trial at the Swiss Champs. It is an amazing feeling to have a race where everything seems to come together and go perfectly. I felt strong, I felt relaxed and I had really good skis. This resulted in me coming 2nd, and also scoring my best points to date. It’s impossible not to be happy standing on a podium!

Swiss national champs podium

Swiss national champs podium

10km classic mass start at the Continental Cup in St Ulrich, Austria. I’ve raced in St Ulrich several times before, and this was definitely the best. I managed to avoid any trouble in the mass start, and felt really strong. I spent the entire race skiing with people ranked much higher than me, and wasn’t out of place. It was also fun to have my parents and my sister there cheering!

Skiing with a French and German in the classic mass start in St Ulrich

Skiing with a French and German in the classic mass start in St Ulrich

Worst race

Saalfelden, Austria. Although I felt amazing skiing, I would definitely class this as my worst race of the season as I fell over. The vast majority of cross country skiers do fall from time to time whilst racing, especially when you’re really pushing yourself, and when the conditions aren’t ideal. Although I don’t fall that often, I find dealing with it hard, as it leaves me questioning what could the outcome have been if I’d actually managed to stay on my feet. Especially in a race like this when I felt really strong.

Most amazing experience

Racing in the World Cup in Holmenkollen, Oslo. The track was lined with tens of thousands of people, and there were hundreds of people cheering my name (but not my Dad, who was there watching, as he’d already lost his voice!). After 30km I was exhausted, but I didn’t realise quite how much until I stopped, as the crowds seemed to help me not notice it!

Lots of spectators lining the course

Lots of spectators lining the course

Low point

Not qualifying for the Olympics, but getting so so close. I knew it was going to be hard to qualify, and that I was going to have to ski better than I ever had before, but I really believed I could do it. It was so frustrating to get to within seconds of qualifying, and I have to admit I’ve spent a lot of time lying awake in bed since wondering where I could have got those extra seconds.

Improvement I’m most pleased with

Classic skiing has always been my strong point, but this season I’ve had by far my best skate races ever. I’ve been working hard on my balance, knee stability and body position, and really feel it’s paid off. My skate skiing still isn’t as consistent as I’d like it to be, but after several really strong skate races this season I know I can do it!

Thing I wish I could change

(Apart from the obvious… qualifying for the olympics)

In the days building up to races, during my warm ups and during the races I tried not to think about Olympic qualification, and think I was good at not focusing on it, and I didn’t really worry about it or let it get to me. I just knew I had to focus on my racing, and go out and ski as fast as I could. However, after the races, I kept just comparing my results to the qualification standard, and was really critical of myself. As a result, I ended up not enjoying some really strong results at the start of the season, and looking back I really should have done.

Funniest moment

I think it has to be opening presents on Christmas day morning. Due to most of the team (including me) being very last minute, and the boys having an interesting sense of imagination with presents, there were some very unusual and funny presents (and wrapping techniques) on show on Christmas day morning.

Focus for next season

My main focus for next season is the World Championships in Falun, Sweden.

Where I’d recommend to go and ski

My favourite place that I’ve trained and raced this season, and would recommend people to go and cross country ski, is Toblach, Italy. The Dolomite mountains are stunning, and there are so many nice tracks to ski on.

Me and Annika training

Me and Annika training

I just want to end this blog by saying thank you to everyone who has supported me this season. There are so many volunteers, coaches, wax technicians, physios, donors and sponsors… that do an amazing job making the British Cross Country Ski team run, but don’t often receive as much acknowledgement as they deserve. Thank you for all your hard work!

Doing some video technique work with Thomas

Doing some video technique work with Thomas

Also thank you so much to all my friends and family for all your support too, I really appreciate it, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to ski as fast and have as much fun without you!

Lillehammer

Over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time in Lillehammer, Norway. It’s the capital for cross country skiers in Norway, and is an amazing place to live and train. After the 30km in Holmenkollen, I headed to Lillehammer to rest and recover, and prepare for the Birkebeiner, a 54km ski marathon, which was due to take place a week later.

The Birkebeiner is one of the biggest and most famous cross country ski races in the world. In 1206, during the Norwegian civil war, the 18 month old prince Haakon Haakonsson was carried across the mountains by skiers to avoid a certain death. The prince became King and united Norway after 1000 years of civil war.  Every year 17000 people take part in the Birkebeiner ski race, which follows this route over the mountains between Rena and Lillehammer. All racers are required to carry a rucksack weighing at least 3.5kg, their own “Birkebeiner baby”!

I was really excited about racing the Birkebeiner. Having raced it 3 years ago I knew that the atmosphere would be amazing, and having learnt a lot about racing since then I knew I would do a lot better (I ran out of energy about 10km before the finish last time as I didn’t eat enough during the race!).

Pre race preparation of the Birkebeiner race tracks on Friday

Pre race preparation of the Birkebeiner race tracks on Friday

Unfortunately whilst I was at the start warming up for the race, it was announced that this years Birkebeiner was cancelled, due to high winds on the top of the mountains. I was gutted! I was so excited about racing.

Although the highlight of my week in Lillehammer was cancelled, I still had a really good time there. There were perfect spring skiing conditions pretty much every day – warm and sunny, but plenty of snow, so the tracks were still in amazing condition. Every time I went out skiing I just wanted to carry on skiing forever!

Perfect skiing conditions above Rena

Perfect skiing conditions above Rena

Me, happy to be out skiing

Me, happy to be out skiing

Simon out on a ski in the sun

Simon out on a ski in the sun

Ski tracks as wide as motorways!

Ski tracks as wide as motorways!

Sunday was my last day of skiing for the 2013-2014 season, and I flew home on Monday. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! I’m sad that the season is over, but I know next season will be round quickly!

Oslo from the aeroplane (I even managed to spot Holmenkollen!)

Oslo from the aeroplane (I even managed to spot Holmenkollen!)

I definately needed a trolley!

Two ski bags, a big holdall bag and a rucksack I can fit in – I definately needed a trolley!

Norwegian World Cups

In the last week I have races two world cups in Norway, and both have been amazing experiences!

The first of these was a classic city sprint in Drammen on Wednesday. I hadn’t been planning racing, however since I was in Drammen I found it hard to resist, so did so.

The view up to the track in the centre of Drammen

The view up to the track in the centre of Drammen

The race track was constructed out of snow which had been trucked into the city centre, and went up the main high street. Bars were full around the course, and people were hanging out of the apartment windows overlooking the track to get a better view. So it was an amazing atmosphere to race in. It was probably my best sprint of the season, and due to the crowds it was definitely the most fun. A great way to spend my 24th birthday!

Andrew racing in prologue in Drammen

Andrew racing in prologue in Drammen

The second of my two Norwegian World Cup races this week was the 30km classic in Holmenkollen, Oslo (I had been planning on doing this one!)

Holmenkollen sits at the top of a hill over looking Oslo, so there were amazing views from the race tracks, although for the first two days we were there you could only see 50m due to the thick fog. I got lost several times!

Looking down at the ski jump crowds

Looking down at the ski jump crowds

The start of the mens 50km race in Holmenkollen

The start of the mens 50km race in Holmenkollen

On Sunday I raced my first ever 30km race, a classic mass start, and I’m not going to lie, it was the hardest ski race I’ve ever done. The race tracks were really tough, the hills seemed to go on forever!

Me during the 30km race in Holmenkollen

Me during the 30km race in Holmenkollen

Another race photo taken by my Dad

Another race photo taken by my Dad

Tens of thousands of people lined the race tracks, including hundreds camped out in the woods, having bbqs and downing beers whilst cheering. It was amazing hearing hundreds of people cheering my name, despite only knowing two people in the crowd – my dad and my friend Lowri, who happened to be in Oslo visiting her boyfriend for the weekend. They definitely gave me an extra bit of energy!

Lots of spectators lining the course

Lots of spectators lining the course

I came 50th, taking a few seconds short of 1h40 to ski the 30km. I was pleased with how I skied, I gave it everything but felt I skied sensibly and tried to be relaxed. I did tire quite a lot by the end, but the crowds took my mind off the pain! I was some way behind the winner Marit Bjoergen, who totally dominated the race, winning by 1min42 over second, but as my dad said to me, she’s 10 years older than me so I’ve got plenty of time!

Lahti World Cup

Last weekend I raced in my second World Cup of the season in Lahti, Finland.

The race tracks in Lahti were good fun, weaving around the ski jump, and with views back over the city and a massive lake.

Ski jump in Lahti

Ski jump in Lahti

A nice backdrop for the race tracks

A nice backdrop for the race tracks

Given the warm conditions at the moment, the organisers did a good job of making sure everything went ahead as planned. There’s only so much they can control though, and unfortunately all the artifical snow on the tracks had turned into a couple of inches of sugary snow crystals on top of ice

The cross country stadium with the ski jumps in the background

The cross country stadium with the ski jumps in the background

Whilst training on the tracks in the days leading up to the race I thought it wasn’t possible for the tracks to get any softer and tougher, but they did. On Sunday afternoon, the time of my 10km skate time trial, the tracks were in the toughest conditions I’ve skied in this season, with heavy sleet and snow adding to the slush. I tried to ski relaxed and float over the soft, slushy snow, but found it zapped the energy from my legs. I felt I skied some sections of the course well, but others not so well, and therefore didn’t have as good a result as I’d hoped for. The loud crowds made it a fun atmosphere, and I enjoyed racing.

I’m now in Norway again for my last two weeks of racing for this season. I can’t beleive the season has flown by so quickly – I guess that’s what happens when you’re having fun!

Our wax cabin in Lahti

Our wax cabin in Lahti

Snow, racing and elk in Norway

Last weekend I drove seven hours from Ostersund to Gjovik, Norway, to race at a Norwegian Cup. This was the longest I’ve ever driven on my own, and although this meant there was no one to complain about my tuneless singing along to the radio, by the end I definitely missed having any company. On the way back I did get to see 3 elk, which I was really excited about! I stopped for a few minutes to watch them slowly plod around in the snow, which was slow progress for them as it was so deep. It did make me wonder though, where do elk sleep when there is so much snow?

The elk that I saw

The elk that I saw

Seven years ago I was meant to race in my first ever Scandinanvian Cup in Gjovik, however the races got moved as there was no snow. So this was my first time racing in Gjovik, and the weather couldn’t have been more different – it snowed and it snowed and it snowed! There was so much fresh snow, maybe to much as it meant the races tracks disintegrated into nothing, and the car park became interesting (thanks to the people who helped push me out!)

The little hut where I stayed

The little hut where I stayed

The nice view of the lake from where I was staying

The nice view of the lake from where I was staying

I was the only British Skier taking part in this Norwegian Cup event, and was really lucky to have support from Frank Heggebo and Hovden Ski Gymnasium (where two of my team mates have each spent a year training), thank you!

 

Over the weekend I raced in three races. In the classic sprint on Friday I had my best sprint of the season and made it through to the quarter finals (knock out stage) for the first time this season. I really enjoyed racing in my quarter final, it was fun and I felt I skied much better than in qualification even though I didn’t make it to the semi finals.

One of the womens' sprint heats just starting

One of the womens’ sprint heats just starting

I had a very frustrating race in the 10km classic time trial on Saturday. I felt amazing on the climbs, and could ski them as quick if not quicker than all the girls around me, however my skis were so slow, and I just lost minutes on the descents. After the race I found out there had been a slight misunderstanding between myself and the Hovden waxers, as I was told my race skis were ready when they weren’t, so they had not been race prepped. I was really annoyed as I felt that if they had of I could have got a top 10 result (I came 23rd), but learnt the hard way that I need to improve my communication with people at times. And I also realised just how lucky I am to have my own team around me at most of the races I go to, as we all understand how each other works so well.

So on the Sunday I communicated with the waxers much better, I had really good skis, and I had a good 15km skate time trial. Despite the rain that started 5mins before my start and seemed to finish 10mins after, I really enjoyed my race, and felt strong, finishing 18th in a strong field of Norwegian women.

Since the weekend I have been enjoying the vast amount of tracks that are in amazing condition around Ostersund, both with the Ostersund Ski University Team and the Aussie girls that have been training here. As Ash put it in her blog, our ski on Wednesday was one of those sunny days with perfect tracks “where the tracks are so fast and the company is so good you feel like you could go all day”.

I LOVE skiing!

There are so many reason that I love cross country skiing, and when you have conditions like this to train in I guess it’s no surprise!

An evening ski in Ostersund

An evening ski in Ostersund

I love training and racing, and if I didn’t I wouldn’t do what I do. But two of the best things about skiing is the people I get to meet through it and the amazing places I get to visit. Over the past two weeks I’ve been enjoying both of these!

I’ve been training in Ostersund, Sweden and have got to spend some fun time chilling out with some Australian skiers who are there training.

Ash having fun on our wander around Ostersund

Ash having fun on our wander around Ostersund

An ice model of the Swedish version of the Loch Ness Monster. It was massive!

An ice model of the Swedish version of the Loch Ness Monster. It was massive!

Last weekend I went to race at a Scandinavain Cup race in Meraker, Norway. Over the past few years I’ve done a lot of racing in Norway, and love racing there. Cross country skiing is as big in Norway as football is in the UK, so the standard of skiing there is very high, and everyone is so into the sport. Through the time I’ve spent in Norway, I’ve made some friends there, so it was nice to see some of them in Meraker.

Simon racing in Meraker

Simon racing in Meraker

Unfortunately I didn’t have the races that I’d hoped for in Meraker. In the 20km classic mass start that I had high hopes for, I got tripped over by a spectator at the side of the track 800m into the race. I fell in a heap, and by the times I got up I had lost valuable places that I’d made up in a good start. I then panicked, as I didn’t want to get dropped by the girls who I knew I was capable of skiing with, so I sprinted to try and catch them up. This wasn’t the wisest of moves by me, I should have made up the ground gradually, but I just panicked. I caught them up, but then lost them as I used up to much energy catching them up. This wasn’t the race I’d been hoping for, but I’ve learnt from it, just the hard way!

I did have really good skis for the race, thanks to Simon for the waxing, and also thanks to the Finnish team. After finding out that the FInnish team had bought Vauhti out off the “wax of the day”, I nervously went to ask if there was any chance we could buy some off them, as we didn’t have any (Simon and I were waxing for ourselves at the races). There was no need to be nervous as they were really nice, and gave us a tube of the klister for free. The only Finnish I know is kiitos (which means thank you), which seemed to make them smile when I dropped that in when I left. (I’ve reasonly realised that the best way to make friends with foreign strangers when you have to rely on speaking English to them is to learn at least how to say thank you in their language, as it always makes them smile, and is a nice way for them to remember you!)

Si waxing away. My excuse for not being in there waxing is that the ax room was too small, so I made tea instead.

Si waxing away. My excuse for not being in there waxing is that the wax room was too small, so I made tea instead.

Over the last week it has been hard to escape from the coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Normally I wouldn’t want to, but I’ve been finding it tough being surrounded by the Winter Olympics in the media, as I really believed I would be there, and I was so close to being there. Yesterday was the womens’ 10km classic time trial in Sochi, the race that I’d been dreaming about being part of. Unfortunately I wasn’t. So I’m trying to concentrate on my own skiing, and enjoying my own racing for the rest of the season. I’m racing again in Norway this weekend, in Gjovik at a Norwegian Cup. It may not be the Olympics, but it’s another chance to have some fun racing, and hopefully have some more good races!

Toblach World Cup

This weekend I raced in my first World Cup of the 2013-2014 season, in Toblach/Dobbiaco (its German/Italian name), in Italy.

I went on a family skiing holiday to Toblach when I was 10, and I remember being amazed that if you got on the bus and asked for Toblach or Dobbiaco then the bus would drop you off at the same place! Surprisingly, I didn’t remember quite how stunning the Dolomite mountains are that surround Toblach, they were amazing.

P1070337

Getting to the race tracks to train on Friday proved impossible, as this was the view out of my bedroom window (of the hotel car park) when I woke up. And it carried on snowing for the next 3 days! I have never seen so much snow in my life!

There are cars under there somewhere!

There are cars under there somewhere!

Digging out the van

Digging out the van

On Saturday I raced in the 10km classic time trial at the World Cup. This was the first World Cup I’ve raced where I felt I skied competitively, which is a really good feeling. Unfortunately the snow didn’t stop for the race, which made the conditions tough, especially for the later starters in the race (including me) as the tracks slowed down with fewer people on them towards the end of the race. Despite that, I felt I skied strongly and enjoyed the race. And thanks to our waxer, Thomas, I had really good skis too!

My Dad came out to watch me race which was really nice, and it was fun to watch the rest of the races with him.

My dad watching the races

My dad watching the races

Muzzy racing

Muzzy racing

Alex finishing

Alex finishing

Some of the wax trucks

Some of the wax trucks

So after a day of delayed and rebooked flights, I’m now almost in my final destination, Ostersund, Sweden. I’m looking forward to a quiet few days before I race in the Scandinavian Cups races in Meraker this coming weekend.